How Europe’s Jews understand their Jewish lives

February 1, 2022 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has published a major new study of European Jewish identity, providing an updated profile of how the more than one million Jews living in the EU and UK today understand and live their Jewish lives.

The report is based on research conducted in twelve European Union Member States in 2018, which, together, are home to about 80% of the Jewish population of Europe. The study includes the opinions and experiences of over 16,000 respondents – the largest sample of Jews ever surveyed in Europe – and is based on analysis conducted by researchers at JPR’s European Jewish Demography Unit, Professor Sergio DellaPergola and Dr Daniel Staetsky. JPR will be releasing special mini-reports, animation videos, articles and events, highlighting different aspects of the main report to make it optimally accessible to community leaders, educators and policymakers throughout 2022.

Professor Sergio DellaPergola, Chairman of JPR’s European Jewish Demography Unit: “Our main goal was to create a thorough description of the Jewish identity of European Jews, by employing a methodology not attempted before, and by exploring what Jews across Europe think about their Jewishness in multiple ways. Our study brings fresh knowledge that we hope will be translated into a better understanding of the Jewish community by the non-Jewish majority, as well as greater mutual understanding and respect between Jews, and more interaction and collaboration in the effort to pass Jewish identity down to future generations.”

The report finds some extraordinary similarities between Jews across Europe, and indeed the wider world, as well as many differences, including:

  • European Jews are much more likely to see themselves as a religious minority than an ethnic one, yet fewer than half of all Jewish adults across Europe light candles most Friday nights;
  • Jewish identity is strongest in Belgium, the UK, France, Austria, Spain and Italy, and weakest in Hungary and Poland;
  • The memory of the Holocaust and combating antisemitism played a more important part of people’s Jewish identity than support for Israel, belief in God or charitable giving. Rising perceptions of antisemitism may have stimulated a stronger bond with Jewish peoplehood;
  • Only about half of all Jews in Europe identify with a particular denomination, although there are significant differences at the national level;
  • Higher proportions of younger Jews are religiously observant than older Jews;
  • Belgium has the largest proportion of Orthodox in its Jewish population, followed by the UK, Italy, France and Austria;
    Spain has the largest proportion of Jews identifying as Reform/Progressive, followed by Germany and the Netherlands;
  • Reform/Progressive and Orthodox/Charedi forms of Judaism are growing across Europe, whereas traditional modern Orthodoxy, whilst still more prevalent than either of these, is losing ground over time;
  • Levels of attachment to the European Union among European Jews are higher than, or very similar to, levels of attachment among their fellow citizens in the countries in which they live.

Dr Jonathan Boyd, JPR’s Executive Director said: “The report pulls together many of the key insights we have gained from the research we have done for the European Union and European Commission, and it should serve as a key reference on this topic in the coming years. But the policy implications of the findings – what the research means to community leaders, policy makers and educators – still need to be teased out and discussed, and much of the work we will be doing over the coming months will be designed to support that effort. There is a great deal of food for thought here, with potentially significant implications for Jewish education and community development going forward”.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research is a London-based research organisation, consultancy and think-tank. It aims to advance the prospects of Jewish communities in the United Kingdom and across Europe by conducting research and informing policy development in dialogue with those best placed to positively influence Jewish life. Its European Jewish Demography Unit exists to generate demographic data and analysis to support Jewish community planning and development throughout the continent.

Professor Sergio DellaPergola is Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Hebrew University’s Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, and Chairman of JPR’s European Jewish Demography Unit.

Dr Daniel Staetsky is a Senior Research Fellow at JPR and Director of its European Jewish Demography Unit. His expertise spans the disciplines of demography, applied statistics and history, and he is a former researcher and analyst at the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel and RAND Europe.


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